Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

April 25, 2011

April 25, 2011 City Council Agenda – An Air of Resignation

Filed under: City Council — Tags: , — Robert Winters @ 12:46 am

April 25, 2011 City Council Agenda – An Air of Resignation

The most interesting item on this week’s agenda is a March 10 communication to the Mayor from Councillor Simmons in which she informs him that she has resigned from half (5) of the City Council committees on which she serves. Why only half a resignation? If the job no longer interests you, why not go all the way? Oh yeah – big paycheck, minimal responsibilities, great retirement and health care benefits, and your own personal valet.

Manager’s Agenda #1. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to the FY2011 submitted budget and appropriation orders.

This is, of course, the big item on the agenda – the biggest item of the year. The Budget Hearings (mostly pro-forma during which the same councillors ask the same questions they ask every year) are still to come with a final vote expected in mid-May. That said, the Budget Hearings (and the conversations that you can have with City officials while the hearings are happening) can be one of the best lessons for new City Council candidates.

Charter Right #1. That the City Manager is requested to begin filing the necessary paperwork with the Federal Railroad Administration to designate the East Cambridge railroad crossings as an official Quiet Zone. [Charter Right exercised on Order Number Three of Apr 4, 2011.]

Charter Right #2. That the City Manager is requested to relay opposition to additional train service through East Cambridge until a full environmental impact assessment and a public participation process are completed. [Charter Right exercised on Order Number Four of Apr 4, 2011.]

These two Orders from the April 4 meeting appear to be primarily obstructions to the Tim Murray Express. Normally I find obstructionist tactics to be distasteful, but Lt. Gov. Tim’s fast-tracking of his Worcester to North Station rail plan leaves little other choice.

Charter Right #5. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the City Solicitor and other relevant City staff and report back to the City Council with a detailed and formal legal opinion on the ability of 5.28 conversions to bypass use prohibitions in the Table of Uses. [Charter Right exercised on Order Number Eight of Apr 4, 2011.]

Presumably there will be some kind of legal opinion forthcoming on this before the re-filed zoning petition comes to a vote. It seems clear enough that the answer will not be what Councillor Kelley wants to hear, i.e. that it is often the case that some parts of the zoning code (or any law for that matter) supersede other parts.

Communications #1. A communication was received from Carl F. Barron, transmitting thanks for the resolution on his speedy recovery.

Best wishes to Carl – the man who stuck with Central Square through the toughest of times.

Resolution #13. Welcome Gather Here, a fabric, yarn and fibers store, to Cambridge.   Councillor Seidel

This is in the building next to mine, right next to the new yoga studio. Just down the street is the Broadway Bicycle School. Until recently, this stretch of Broadway was "Antique Row" where at one time there were perhaps 7 businesses dealing in antiques and other vintage goods. They are all gone now, but perhaps we have the nucleus of a new theme for the block – participatory arts and crafts. Gather Here appears to be quite popular – a most welcome addition to the block.

Resolution #57. Happy 50th Birthday wishes to Budget Director David Kale.   Councillor Toomey

David, you don’t look a day over 49! I hope you’ll have my copy of the Budget Book waiting for me Monday night after the councillors get theirs.

Resolution #66. Congratulations to Assistant City Manager for Human Services Ellen Semonoff on being appointed by President Obama as a member of the Advisory Group on Prevention, Health Promotion and Integrative and Public Health.   Councillor Decker, Councillor Toomey, Councillor Cheung, Mayor Maher

An excellent choice by El Presidente. Ellen has always been one of the most sincere and dedicated people I have known in Cambridge City government. It’s a good thing this is just an advisory committee because we’d like to keep her.

Resolution #69. Acknowledge May 22, 2011 as Harvey Milk Day.   Councillor Simmons

Let’s not forget that when Harvey Milk was murdered in 1978, San Francisco Mayor George Moscone was also murdered. The murderer, Dan White, was sentenced to only 5 years in prison after killing these two men. Fortunately, this murderer had the good grace to commit suicide in 1985 a little over a year after being released from prison. How does a double murderer get sentenced to only 5 years in prison? Answer – blame it on the twinkies.

Order #4. That the City Manager is requested to confer with relevant City staff and report back to the City Council on the feasibility of allowing property owners to get separate sewerage and water meters so that people are not charged sewerage rates for water used outside the home.   Councillor Kelley

Property owners have had this option for many years, though you might never know it from the Water Department’s website. There is no "sewerage meter" involved – just a separate water meter for outdoor irrigation use. The property owner is billed for the water passing through both meters, but only the domestic use meter is billed for sewerage. Call the Water Department if you have a substantial amount of outdoor water use. There are costs involved in the installation, but it may be worth it if your irrigation use is substantial.

Order #5. That the regular City Council meeting scheduled for Mon, May 9, 2011 be changed to a Round Table for the purpose of discussing the planning process for Kendall and Central Squares with the Community Development Department and the consulting firm Goody Clancy.   Mayor Maher

The public meetings yet to be scheduled by Goody Clancy and the Community Development Department will be the place to go. My guess is that this Roundtable meeting will primarily be an opportunity for a few Red Ribbons to be waved about in honor of an unimpressive effort that will hopefully soon draw to a close in time for a more substantial planning process to commence. If the Red Ribbon Etc. Commission has had any value at all, it will be in the continuing efforts of some business owners and property owners who have taken on initiatives for the betterment of Central Square independent of any ribbons or municipal election campaigns.

Order #7. That the City Manager is requested to instruct the Director of Traffic, Parking and Transportation to create a plan which would reduce the overall pedestrian crossing distance of the highway to the relocated Lechmere Station by reducing the proposed number of traffic lanes, either through lanes or dedicated turn lanes, and to work with the MassDOT to implement the plan and report back to the City Council.   Councillor Toomey

This Order is a constructive response to a rumored plan from the Dept. of Transportation to actually widen the highway in the vicinity of the Lechmere Station – a plan that is bewildering at best. Every plan to date associated with the relocation of the Lechmere Station to the NorthPoint side of the O’Brien Highway (formerly Bridge Street) indicated an "urban boulevard" that would be much more pedestrian friendly than the current configuration and with no additional traffic lanes. Let’s hope that the urban boulevard prevails over some obsolete highway plan.

Order #11. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council with a complete and comprehensive list of all concessions made to the City and broader Cambridge community by developers and the universities in exchange for zoning relief, special permits, or Council approval.   Councillor Cheung

This is a most interesting order. There are some councillors who believe sincerely in the idea of zoning relief as currency to be spent to purchase "community benefits." Others (including me) find the practice to be the slipperiest of slippery slopes in which almost anything goes as long as the price is sufficiently high. It’s bad enough that the unquenchable desire for additional real estate taxes often conflicts with good planning, but it’s even worse when zoning votes are delivered in exchange for one-time monetary contributions to favored charities. Perhaps this Order together with Order #11 of Feb 7, 2011 and Order #1 of Dec 13, 2010 will help shine a little sunlight onto this questionable practice.

Committee Report #2. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Leland Cheung, Chair of the Economic Development, Training and Employment Committee and Councillor Sam Seidel, Chair of the Neighborhood and Long Term Planning Committee for a joint public meeting held on Mar 22, 2011 to discuss the future of the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority.

This was a very interesting committee meeting in which a lot of misconceptions about the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority were dispelled. Some very informative background material on the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority is available courtesy of Bob Simha and Joesph Tulimieri.

Communications and Reports from City Officers #1. A communication was received from City Councillor E. Denise Simmons, transmitting her withdrawal from the Transportation, Traffic and Parking, Neighborhood and Long Term Planning, Human Services, Public Facilities, Arts and Celebrations and University Relations Committees.

This is not the first committee resignation of the current City Council term, but it’s the biggest by far. Councillor Decker quit the Neighborhood and Long-term Planning Committee a year ago and Councillor Toomey quit as co-chair of the Ordinance Committee a few months ago. Councillor Simmons’ resignation from 5 committees is unprecedented in the several decades during which I’ve followed the Cambridge City Council. As Woody Allen once said, "eighty percent of success is just showing up." I’m sure there is a back story of some kind here – perhaps the frustration of dealing with colleagues who feel that "their committee" is a personal venue for acting out. Then again, Councillor Simmons’ Civic Unity Committee is really a committee of one.

Councillor Simmons states in her letter that "the number of committees that I sit on has become an impediment to my effectiveness as a City Councillor." To this I’ll simply note that through the end of March, Councillor Cheung had attended 44 committee meetings and Councillor Seidel had attended 41 committee meetings. Councillor Simmons had attended only 19 committee meetings and had chaired only 5 of them. I have a lot of respect for people who actually show up for work and do their job in exchange for their salary and benefits. For a city councillor to walk away from most of her committee assignments while still enjoying a substantial paycheck and the luxury of a personal staff assistant is despicable. Candidates take note – there may be a City Council seat available this November. – Robert Winters

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